2020 Toyota Avalon TRD

PHOENIX — The Avalon, Toyota’s flagship full-sized sedan, was all-new for 2019. Now in its fifth generation, it was first introduced in 1994 as a 1995 model. Toyota made no secret that the Avalon was aimed those who were members of AARP, collected Social Security checks and had their health care handled by Medicare.

Over the past 25 years, Avalon has remained true to its founding formula; it’s a large, roomy, four-door, front-wheel drive sedan powered by a robust V-6 engine. The doors are large for easy entry and exit, it boasts excellent visibility, and is affordable, with outstanding reliability, resale value and owner satisfaction. Overall, it’s a sensible alternative to higher-priced, upmarket luxury sedans.

Over the years, Avalon grew in size, receiving major evolutionary improvements including exterior redesigns, more powerful engines, additional gears on the transmission, upgraded audio systems and technology, and, a half-dozen years ago, it was offered in a hybrid powertrain that delivered excellent fuel economy.

But driving excitement, sporty handling, burbling exhaust and head turning good looks were not part of the Avalon package. That is, however, until this year when the product planners at Toyota had the audacity to tap their TRD performance-oriented division to add that trim level on top of the already quasi-sporty XSE trim.

Now, before you shed your Velcro-fastened athletic shoes in favor of a pair of Nike Air VaporMax Plus for surer grip on the accelerator pedal, know that Toyota engineers didn’t touch the standard 3.5-liter V-6 or the 301 horsepower it comes with. Further, it’s connected to the same eight-speed automatic transmission used in all other non-hybrid Avalon trim levels.

What is included in the TRD is a track-tuned chassis with thicker underbody braces to increase torsional rigidity, and unique coil springs that lower Avalon TRD by 0.6 inches for a reduced center of gravity. There are stiffer coil springs and stabilizer bars for increased roll stiffness, and larger front brakes with two-piston calipers instead of single-piston units used on the XSE trim.

Unique TRD shock absorbers complete the chassis enhancements. The TRD-tuned Avalon rides on 19-inch matte-black aluminum wheels wearing 235/40R-19 all-season Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires.

We especially liked the dual-outlet polished stainless-steel exhaust tips that delivered a resonant, grandiloquent sound via the TRD-tuned cat-back exhaust system.

Outside, the Avalon TRD has a noticeably lower ride height, is trimmed with an exclusive aerodynamic body kit, which includes the front splitter, side aero skirts, a trunk mounted spoiler, and rear mounted TRD badging.

Inside, Avalon TRD features Black Sport SofTex-trimmed heated front seats with Ultrasuede inserts and red accents. It also gets red-stitched TRD embroidered headrests, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching, red seatbelts, a shift knob with an embossed TRD logo, and unique TRD floor and trunk mats.

The TRD trim level also includes standard dual-zone climate control, a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa integration, but disappointingly, not Android Auto.

Behind the wheel, the Avalon TRD definitely felt more planted compared to other Avalon trim levels we’ve driven. It’s sharper and handles better around corners and twisty canyon roads in Arizona where we tested the sedan. It’s not a German sports sedan to be sure, but it handles well enough for most tastes. The TRD suspension modifications, however, didn’t come at the expensive of an overly stiff and annoying ride quality and it is more than pleasing on a longer interstate trip. It isn’t as pillowlike as a standard Avalon, but certainly pays off with improved handling.

The driver can select from a choice of four drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport/Sport+, or Custom. While acceleration and passing performance isn’t white-knuckled, push-you-back-in-the-seat fast, Avalon TRD isn’t a slug either. We covered a quarter-mile pass in just under 15 seconds and a zero-to-60 performance test in six seconds. Still, we wished for an all-wheel drive option and another 50 to 75 horsepower to increase the fun factor and for a more dynamic driving experience.

Overall, those expecting the Avalon TRD to deliver a sports sedan experience or the hardcore equipment found on Toyota’s TRD Pro off-road Tundra, Tacoma and 4Runner trucks will soon find it’s not in the same class as those vehicles. But is it worthy of TRD badging? Perhaps, perhaps not. But what you will get is a genuinely good-looking full-sized sedan that really ups the Avalon brand. We really liked the looks both inside and out and the exhaust notes were surprisingly pleasing without the annoying engine drone we experienced in the 4Runner TRD.

The Avalon TRD is on sale, now but Toyota says 2020 production will be limited to about 2,500 units.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $43,295
Price as Tested: $46,147
Engine-Transmission: 3.5-Liter 301-hp V6 teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 22/31/25 mpg City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5

Where Built: Georgetown, Kentucky

Crash Test Results: Overall highest possible 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a 2020 Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Competes With:
Buick Lacrosse
Chrysler 300
Dodge Charger
Kia Cadenza
Nissan Maxima

Fab Features
Spacious, upscale interior
Attractive TRD packaging and features
Excellent safety scores

— Jim Prueter